In this section, I compare discovered cooperative learning and architectural practices with other educators' views.

Sufficient learning time and focus on one comprehensive art form. Students need large chunks of time, up to four weeks, for optimal learning (Stahl, 1997). This class was scheduled for only six weeks. Outside influences [e.g., field trips in other subjects, special testing, and emergency assemblies) further limit art time [to 21 days in this case, according to Woodson]. Learning one art form in depth (architecture and its props) may be better than several (petroglyphs and large pots). Time for exploration of a new technique and art material is essential. On the other hand, setting a rapid everyday pace is a plus at the middle school level (Wood & Jones, 1994).

Student ownership and smaller groups: Whereas making architectural structures collaboratively is a valid educational objective, students may need more choice in deciding about house structure and materials. Stahl (1997) warns that groups need to select their own objectives and materials. Structuring smaller groups may give each student a chance to contribute more ideas.

Expressive versus interdisciplinary and historical learning. Some readers may be disappointed that results were not creative, the promotion of free expression. Creativity was never a stated objective. Some art educators believe in primarily encouraging architectural imagination (Michael, 1983); some people promote building career awareness with real architectural problems Bartuska. & Young, 1994); and others focus on interdisciplinary and historical content learning, (Pietig, 1997) as in this case. When the school principal threatened to discontinue the program, it was saved by the local Major of Guadalupe who was impressed with what students were learning about their local heritage.


Using easy solutions, copying models, and trial and error as dominant cooperative practices. Many middle school students have no experience with clay, additive construction methods, roof design, and group collaboration. Some groups tend to choose the easiest floor design (rectangular or circular) and repetitively make clay balls in the beginning. Three out of four groups in this research made rectangular buildings, thus copying the models. We can't assume that students are lazy or that the teacher did a poor job of explaining and motivating. We must examine the evolution of their form-making. Gombrich (1984) finds that the familiar will always be the likely starting point for the...unfamiliar (p. 50). The Wilsons (1977) claimed that students may naturally copy a preexisting form in graphic terms. Similarly students tend to borrow a familiar three dimensional model when building as well. The process becomes one schema and correction (Gombrich, 1984, p. 50). This trial and error scheme grows; for example, when students struggle with roof structure. Students explore new formations as well as materials through practice.


Technically difficult materials and construction. What researchers and teachers forget is the evolving difficulties working with clay construction. Studio learning involved tacit understanding of physical problems, technical skills, and natural building materials, and diagraming. Students identified physical dimensions (avoid heavy roof logs, stableness of walls), technical skills (difficulty with cross layering and connecting of roof parts and plugging wall holes), and natural building materials (worry about size of sticks and stones, worry about state of clay). Most students must struggle to learn the tricks of the three dimensional construction trade. Golomb (1997) admits that clay is a technically difficult material. She further explains the problem: "To create satisfying representations in a medium that puts a premium on balance, uprightness, and the modeling of multiple sides, all of which require great skill and practice" (p. 140). Some groups also learned about proportion because they made little men to fit into their houses.


Stereotypic imagery may be considered the first stage in their aesthetic expression or preferences in building as well. When learning an art skill in the beginning, students often go through a period where they seemed to prefer literal and sentimental images, simple composition, and stereotypic imagery. Woodson responded, "Absolutely, students think in terms of what they know. They are used to square house forms. The typical house looks like a face. They "freak out" when told that ancient people entered their house through the roof. At first they make balls or bricks the same size and later discover that they have to fill in the cracks. Then I teach them about proportion, scale, and texture." Making small bricks is not as easy as it looks. Consider the masons as artisans and soon learn that stone cutting and setting are difficult skills. Dyer (1981) similarly found that her photography students needed to rely on comfortable content and forms while struggling with technical frustrations. Furthermore, Lamme & Thompson (1994) suggested that some children benefit from seeing the whole process of creating an artwork, not just the finished product or example. Some of these students in this study may need to see the entire process of constructing a 3-D model before they are able to invent one.


Learning to cooperate with peers takes experience. Even when given clear and complete instructions before they start (Stahl, 1997), middle school students may not be able to collaborate because at this age their major problem is getting along with peers. clarified the major problem of the groups, "Our biggest mistake is lack of concentration. You need to talk to each other about the solutions and what are you going to do about those holes in wall." Students obviously talk to each other but apparently lack experience in solving problems together. Art instructors need to structure several simpler cooperate learning activities, even at a younger age. One assessment solution is to ask students to name what things they learned from the group today? (Wood & Jones, 1994).


Cultural self-separation versus gifted student aggressiveness. In Ritter's class she noticed that her Spanish-speaking students formed their own group and preferred to make small artifacts. Ritter saw the problem right away. She stated, "These kids separated themselves. They seem accustomed to it." When trying to question these students at the end of the course, the student researcher who was documenting the class, found that most of these students (3/4) in this sub-group could not speak English. The classroom teacher would not translate. It could be that the gifted students were too aggressive in the beginning and didn't invite any advice from the Spanish-speaking students. This problem needs to be addressed with more comparison and research.


Heterogeneous groups and interdependence: Stahl (1997) recommends that students of different genders, races, and cliques be integrated. In this study, three out of four groups were integrated and their results were successful. The last group of boys were of the same ethnic race and disposition and group horseplay resulted; however, at the middle school level, this may be a natural phase and part of their rites of passage (Stokrocki, 1997). Teachers may need to reintegrate such troublesome students into other groups or have them work alone.


Post-group reflection. Stahl (1977) recommends that students evaluate their collaboration learning. In response to the instructor's post questionnaire question "What is architecture?" most students indicated that architecture was some thing you build (14/23 or 61%) or the design of a structure (11/23 or 48%). One insightful answer was "a way of expressing a person's life style and what tribe he was in and how he lived." Another student replied, "It's part of a person's culture." Students also learned that culture is different groups' beliefs (17/23 or 74%) or way of life (13/23 or 13%). More specifically, students mentioned, "it showed how the people lived and worked" (6/23 or 26%). In addition, Ritter reported, "The peak experience, as evidenced in all the proud smiles in their group photograph, came when students gave their final presentations. They looked forward to being videotaped. They solved problems as if they were living at the time. Their scores went up dramatically." [Scores not included in this study.]


Strom (1994) also suggests that instructors develop a specific checklist of criteria for students to follow. The checklist should include: creativity and craftsmanship, harmony of ideas, amount of input from each student, low voices, honesty and sensitivity, making positive statements about each other's contributions, and giving good reasons to support one's opinions. With more time, students can practice their presentation before the final. He (1994) further suggests that teachers tell their students that they need their input to perfect the course.



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Dyer, E. (1981). A quantitative and qualitative analysis of the effects of photography instruction on college students' descriptions of photography (Doctoral dissertation The Pennsylvania State University, 1981).

Golomb, C. (1997). Representational concepts in clay: The development of sculpture. In A. Kindler (Ed.). Child development in art (pp. 131-141). Reston, VA: NAEA.

Gombrich, E. (1984). Truth and stereotype. In P. Werhane (Ed.). Philosophical issues in art (pp. 41-56). New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Lamme, L., & Thompson, S. (1994). COPY? - Real artists don't copy! But maybe children should. Art Education, 47 (6), 46-51

Michael, J. (1983). Art and adolescence: Teaching art at the secondary level. New York: Teachers College Press.

Pietig, J. (1997). Architecture as a metaphor for education. Art Education, 50 (2), 45-51.

Stahl, R. (1997). The essential elements of cooperative learning in the classroom. Bloomington, IN: (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 370881, March 94, ERIC Digest).

Stokrocki, M. (1997). Rites of passage for middle school students. Art Education 50 (3), 48-55).

Strom, P. (1994). Evaluation of early adolescent learning in collaborative art production activities (Unpublished Masters Thesis. Arizona State University, 1994).

Wilson, B., & Wilson, M. (1977). The iconoclastic view. Art Education, 30 (1), 5-12.

Wood, K., & Jones, J. (1994, Jan.). Integrating collaborative learning across the curriculum. Middle School Journal, 19-23)